BACKPACKERS GUIDE TO THE CYCLADES ISLANDS

When your mind first thinks of Greece it usually goes to white buildings, blue roofs and dozens of pink flowers. And while it does have that it also offers; breath-taking landscapes, crystal blue water, marvellous monuments and the tastiest cuisine. While it may not be the normal backpacking destination the Cyclades island’s is a playground for explorers of all budget types. This backpackers guide will tell you everything you need to know when travelling through the Cyclades Islands.

My Greek adventure took me to: Athens, Mykonos, Paros, Ios, Naxos and Santorini.

I have sectioned this backpackers guide into 6 categories for easy reading.

Favourite Greek Island

My favourite island by far was Paros, it’s not as well known, but it ticks all the boxes. For a backpacker Paros has it all! It’s basically an affordable version of Mykonos. Everywhere on the island is accessible by bus, ATV or Scooter. There is a little boat for €5 each way that will take you to another island called Anti Paros, which is known for its caves and beautiful beaches.

I recommend making time for the following:

  • A day in Anti-Paros the caves cost €5 and go really far down, just remember you need to climb back up! The bus around the island is €6 all day so you can go around to different beaches if you fancy cheaper transport.
  • Captain Ben’s Boat tour! While this isn’t a cheap excursion, it’s a worthwhile fun one. It’s €55 for a day trip (9am – 4.30pm) and includes 5 incredibly beautiful swimming spots, unlimited soft drinks, 5 alcoholic beverages and 5 ouzo shots! It also includes a beach stop, snacks, floats, snorkels and an inflatable slide you can go down. This was such a good day out and I thought it was good value for money.
  • Visit the lovely village of Lefkes, Parikia and the town of Nauosa. These places are full of Greek charm.
  • Sit on the harbour or go to Lavadia beach for sunset. I just got such a great feel for the place. I ended up circling back and going again because I just couldn’t get enough.

Island Offerings

Each island offers something different to experience;

Naxos is the greenest island and most mountainous out of the bunch. I took a hike up Mount Zas for a change of scenery and wasn’t disappointed! You have the opportunity to climb to the highest point of the Cyclades. The climb is rated difficult, but I think it’s a mixture of moderate to hard. The climb is a steady incline and really rocky, towards the top you are scrambling up, but I wouldn’t let that put you off. After you walk down, walk another 20 minutes into Filoti for a well deserved lunch.

Athens offers you rich culture with 7 ancient ruins. When choosing which ticket to purchase I would go for the €30 one this gives you a 5 day pass into all the 7 sites whereas the €20 only offers you the Acropolis. Make sure you get to the Acropolis at 7.45am for an 8am opening to avoid massive queues. It’s also good to note in peak season the ruins close at 1pm and reopen at 5pm to stop you walking around in the heat.

Ios is the party island so make sure you are ready for a good time! I became a regular at a really cool hang out spot called Karmas. It offers 2 for €10 on frozen daiquiris, has affordable food options (great breakfast!) And has lots of hammocks and pillows to lounge around on. Chora is where the party is, they have lots of incredibly cheap drink deals like 20 shots for €25, cocktails for €5, 3 jagers for €5. After all that partying, it’s best to chill on Paralia Milopotas beach, it’s very spacious and the Far Out Beach club offers two sunbeds for €10.

Mykonos is definitely the glamorous island, it’s got tons of cute photo spots and the most beautiful shops. Everyone goes to the four windmills for sunset, but I recommend going up to Boni’s Windmill instead. This place is much quieter and gives you a beautiful view looking over the island.

Santorini was my least favourite island because of the crowds but, it is truly beautiful. I spent most of my time in Fira and Imerovigli. In Oia there is a lovely harbour called Amoudi Bay it’s best known for its seafood. You have to trek down and then back up 200 steps, but it’s worth it for the ocean view. You can ride a donkey back up, but I wouldn’t advise it as they are treated poorly.

In order to get the most out of these islands I suggest going to the popular spots early. Get the first bus available to avoid the crowds and the heat. To key is to keep costs low but still have enough money to say yes to spontaneous trips with new friends! Here’s the backpackers guide to save money along the way:

Transport

  • To save money on flights look at flying directly onto an island. I found flying one way from Santorini was much cheaper than Athens. My flight was €34 whereas going from the mainland would cost €100.
  • Be flexible with plans and ferry times. If you aren’t on a tight schedule you’ll be able to pick cheaper options. The prices range from €11 – €50. – Take the bus! The services are really regular and will take you all over the islands. Depending on the place tickets range from €1.60 – €5.00.
  • Athens has an amazing transport system where you pay for the time rather than the destination so you can use this on trains and buses. It cost €1.20 for 90 minutes.

Time Of Year

The best time to visit Greece and the Cyclades island’s is May to the middle of July. August time is full of crowds with both tourists and Greeks. Due to their holiday system a lot of Greeks will take their summer holidays on the surrounding islands.

Alleyway in Naxos with an old wooden blue door, cobbled footpath and a tree covered in lots of pink flowers.

Accomodation

Every backpackers guide will recommend staying in hostels to cut down costs. Hostels are a great environment to help you make friends, find activities and get inspired on what to do around the island’s. I noticed a lot of the hostels don’t have kitchens so it’s something to keep an eye on when booking. As I went in the middle of August I had very slim pickings of where to say. But here are some of the ones I really enjoyed:

  • Safestay Hostel Athens Monastiraki Square €15 per night. The roof top bar view is what really sets this hostel apart. You get a gorgeous view of the Acropolis and the surrounding areas and a great spot for sunset.
  • Bedwave Piraeus Athens (20 mins bus ride from the ferry port) €12 a night. It is located right next to the beach giving you amazing views from the windows and access from the hostel right to the sand.
  • Far Out Camping Ios €9 per night. I stayed in a little shed with 2 beds, a fan and a plug socket. The hostel had 2 pools (the one we called the party pool the other the calm pool) it has good vibes if you like a drink, but it also goes quiet at 10pm which gives you the option of following the party to Chora or getting a good night’s sleep. It also has a free shuttle from the ferry port to the hostel.
  • Paros Backpackers (10 minutes walk from the port) €27 per night. Now whilst this one is the most expensive, it was also my favourite! I just loved the vibe and the clientele that came to this place. The rooftop bar was such a friendly, welcoming atmosphere. They also had a WhatsApp group for the hostel so you could ask people what they are up to and make plans.

Good Greek Food

Eating on the cheap can be quite easy when you know what to look for and where to go. The most famous dish on offer is the Gyro it ranges from €2.50 – €5.00 there is usually a pork, chicken or veggie option. A gyro is; meat, lettuce, tomato, onion, tzatziki sauce and chips wrapped up in a pita. I lived on these for most of the trip! Another affordable dish is the Greek salad (Feta, cucumber, tomato, green peppers, onion and capers mixed into olive oil) this can range from €5.00 to €9.00. Sometimes it comes on its own other times with bread it depends on the restaurant. Another dish to try is the Moussaka (it’s basically lasagne, but made from eggplant and potato!) This ranges from €8 – €12 and is a really nice dish. Although don’t be alarmed If you get crisps stuck in the top.

For the best Gyros go to:

  • Sakis Mykonos (€4.50),
  • Pepes Paros (€2.60),
  • Faros Ios (€4),
  • Yogis Fira Santorini (€2,60).

Some lovely places for Greek salad are:

  • Taverna Syrtaki on the waterfront at the bottom of Karavolades stairs Santorini ($6.90 and came with free bread!)
  • Yialos Cafe Mykonos ($7),
  • Barbadimos Piraeus Athens also came with free tomato purée dip and then 80 cents for pitas ($5.50)

And for the Moussaka: Aeolis Paros right on the waterfront (€8).

If your island hopping itinerary takes you to Paros, then click here for some budget friendly places.

So to summarize, make sure you allow at least 3/4 days on each island to get the most out of this experience. And that my friends is a basic backpackers guide to Greece. Do you have any tips you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you!

Happy Exploring!

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